ABOUT THIS time a year ago, the first reports surfaced in this column that some of the putting greens at Hobbit's Glen, the Columbia Association's showcase golf course, were a mess. Official rationalizations, as it turned out, came quickly, along with exhortations for golfers to just wait for Mother Nature to work her magic.
So golfers waited, but whatever magic had been expected went poof.
In September, the Columbia Association's management came clean, grudgingly, after bringing in a United States Golf Association agronomist. So bad, we were told then, had conditions become from poor drainage (mainly), drought and a fungus-caused malady called "fairy ring" that parts of the 30-year-old course should be rebuilt.
Another chapter in this story is scheduled to become visible this month.
Systems to improve drainage on or around five greens at Hobbit's Glen are to be installed by a contractor credited with having done comparable work at a number of golf courses.
Rob Goldman, vice president of the Columbia Association's Sports and Fitness Division, said golfers should experience minimal interruptions. The greens to be reworked - one at a time - are Nos. 2, 6, 8, 10 and 14, he said. The work, Goldman said, should require each green to be taken out of play "for 24 to 48 hours."
The process, he said, will begin with turf being peeled back, dirt beneath it being removed or re-contoured, drains being installed, and finally, the turf being moved back into place.
"It's being done early in the season, so that will let us get the course back into good shape," Goldman said.
The USGA consultant recommended other, cheaper improvements, too. They ranged from applying better grass seed to drying soggy spots after heavy rain with fans, as well as thinning some of Hobbit's Glen's ample shrubbery to increase air flow.
The Columbia Association's directors approved spending $55,000 for the drainage upgrade. That's a pretty sizable saving over the $25,000-a-hole estimate that was made in September for rebuilding individual greens.
With the grass greening up every day, flowers blooming, and the thermometer teasing us with upper-60s temperatures, prime time for golf is quickly approaching.
But golfers at the pricey but, in good times, very-nice-if-not-cushy Hobbit's Glen can be excused if they wait to pass judgment on this year's promised fixes.
A soccer note or two
Fields to covet: Howard County travel-soccer teams for some years have been drawn to periodic competitions on Tobacco Road. Yes, that's the same Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area ACC sports fans know so well. The 12,000-player Capital Area Soccer League in central North Carolina has become one of the nation's better-known youth programs.
CASL is formally opening this spring its new, 150-acre soccer-only complex on land leased from the state government. The complex includes a 7,000-seat stadium that will be home of the Women's United Soccer Association's Carolina Courage, as well as a new men's team in the Premier Development League.
"It's phenomenal," said Columbia coach Dave Lane, whose Cobras, an under-18 premier boys team for the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County, played there in November. "It compares to what we experienced in Europe - and when we were there, the Bermuda grass had already turned brown for the winter.
"You can actually play soccer the way it was intended on a pitch like that, that's so level, so smooth. When we play on quality fields like that, we can play quality soccer, compared to what we are forced to play on the bumps and grass that we get in this area."
Other benefits come from visionary business and governmental leadership that makes such facilities happen, too. The U.S. national men's team will train for the World Cup at the new facility in Cary, N.C., beginning May 1, eschewing its usual digs near San Diego. And the 2002 and 2003 NCAA Women's College Cup tournaments are signed, as well.
Watch: Keep an eye on Brian West, the former Centennial High soccer standout who in 1998 left the University of Virginia early to play pro soccer for Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew.
West, a Crew regular last season, has been called to full national-team duty several times recently, and although he hasn't gotten lots of playing time, it's interesting that U.S. coach Bruce Arena, as good a judge of young talent as there is, keeps calling the startlingly fast forward/midfielder back. West, 22, is being billed as a Crew player to watch this season.
Quickie quiz: West and which other former Columbia youth player are the only two Howard countians on the same MLS team?
He's Dante Washington, who had his best performance in three injury-bedeviled seasons a year ago after being traded from Dallas to Columbus. Washington, who starred at Oakland Mills, twice led NCAA Division I scorers while at Radford University and was a 1992 Olympian.
Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@ baltsun.com.